Visualization: 68 Blocks

December 15, 2012

Last week the Globe published the fruits of a year-long  effort to tell the story of one of Boston’s forgotten neighborhoods.

Mention Bowdoin-Geneva to the average “The Wire”-loving holiday shopper walking down Newbury Street and you’ll draw a blank. Few in the prosperous tribe that hugs the Charles have heard of it. But summer after summer, it’s a Dorchester neighborhood in the cross-hairs of gang violence, with a rate of violent assault three times that of the rest of the city.

This summer the Globe decided to go deeper than the usual “drive-by” journalism that follows shootings with an article or two, then disappears. So we rented an apartment in the heart of Bowdoin-Geneva and moved a small group of journalists in. They even slept there. The outcome is the sprawling 68 Blocks series, a 5-part, 25000-word newsvella.

And we didn’t stop at embedding ourselves in the physical Bowdoin-Geneva. What would happen, we asked, if we embedded ourselves in the virtual Bowdoin-Geneva, too? We looked at traces of the neighborhood’s lives left on YouTube, on Twitter, on Facebook – even vertical networks like ThisIs50.com. We found fascinating conversations and expressions coming from these 68 blocks everywhere we looked. But one service clearly rose above the rest for the widely ranging way it reflected the neighborhood: Instagram.

Instagram was perfect because it showed people’s lives in an intimate way: their children, their homes, their moments and big and small. And it provided a great counterpoint to the main storyline, which is one of lives darkened by violence. Instagram showed that normal lives were being lived in Bowdoin-Geneva, too.

We started by saving links to every Instagram photo taken in the neighborhood over the summer. Then we built a tool that allowed an editor to browse through them regularly and pick out pictures that seemed to tell a story. We phoned the photographers, asked them about their picture, and recorded their answers.

Check it out here.

Also see a lovely post about the project by Rachel McAthy at journalism.co.uk, which has covered the Globe’sSandy-related Instagram work previously.